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The Pearl Project: The Truth Left Behind

Authors: Asra Nomani, Barbara Feinman Todd, Katie Balestra, and Kira Zalan
January 20, 2011


On the morning of May 17, 2002, Pakistani police investigator Fayyaz Khan ordered officers to dig inside a compound in the Gulzar-e-Hijri neighborhood, a poor area on Karachi's outskirts. It was not a pleasant task. At the scene, Randall Bennett, the U.S. State Department's regional security officer in Karachi, lit a cigarette to mask the stench of death.

This was the stomach-turning culmination of the search for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He had been abducted nearly four months earlier on January 23 while trying to chase down possible Pakistani connections to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, the British Muslim man who attempted to blow up an American Airlines jetliner over the Atlantic.

Gently, under the watchful eye of a colonel in Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, police officers lifted their find. First: a skull four doctors on the scene said had been “decapitated,” the U.S. consul general, John Bauman, later wrote in a State Department cable. Then the upper torso, still wearing the light blue track suit that Pearl's kidnappers had him wear. Pearl's body, cut into about 12 pieces, was removed. This outcome, sadly, came as little surprise. A gruesome videotape had circulated earlier, drawing worldwide attention, showing Pearl's beheading by a man whose face the camera never revealed.

Locating the remains, however, was a breakthrough. Pakistani police and U.S. officials for the first time had established a link to Pearl's actual murderers. The man who led police to the site, a young militant named Fazal Karim, sat in jail across town.

Picked up in connection with the bombing of the Sheraton Karachi Hotel on May 8, Karim told Pakistani police investigator Fayyaz Khan that he had been one of the guards holding Pearl. He said he witnessed the murder by three men whom he described variously as “Arabs” or as “Balochis,” a reference to natives of Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province abutting Afghanistan and Iran.

But it would be more than another year before the actual perpetrator would say that he was the unidentified man wielding the knife that killed Pearl.

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